Those who might ever have questioned the power of a haircut to influence perception were firmly put in their place in the late hours of February 16, 2007. For it was then that Britney Spears walked into a hair salon, took hold of the clippers, and tried her best to shave the pain away. That evening, she continued her mission by appearing with her new ‘do at a tattoo parlor in the San Fernando Valley–specifically the Body & Soul Tattoo Studio in Sherman Oaks (RIP). With her hoodie semi-covering her completely shaved head, Spears attracted a crowd of about sixty people, fans and paparazzi commingling to feed off the pleasure of watching the beginnings of a train wreck leaving the station. The tattoo she opted for that night was slightly more femme than her haircut: a lipstick kiss mark on the inside of her wrist. Clearly, this contrast spoke to the torn feelings she was having at the moment.
From that day forward, Spears became an unwitting and unlikely spokesperson for mental health: That is, after she was tabloid fodder, a “cautionary tale”. She was the ultimate proof of how much we as a society love to watch famous people rise up to the pedestal we build for them only to relish the opportunity to see them fall off of it. Spears’ head shave represents far more than a mere drastic alteration in appearance (no one put half as much emphasis of meaning on Keri Russell doing the same in Felicity). It was something that, internally, we have all experienced–regardless of gender, though especially as a woman. An innate desire to let all that we have suppressed bubble up to the surface and be seen.
Looking back on the year that was 2007 for Britney, a slew of personal struggles that included the death of her aunt, Sandra Bridges Covington, with whom she had a deep emotional attachment, as well as her divorce from Kevin Federline shortly after giving birth to her second son, made a psychological breakdown somewhat inevitable. Paired with the constant scrutiny and the pressures to sustain the same level of success she had during her objective pinnacle, the Britney album, Spears’ strain was considerable.
In September of 2007, speculation about Spears’ coherence arose again after a sloppy, seemingly drug-addled performance at the MTV Video Music Awards. Her hair, however, was back to its blonde shoulder-length signature. Yet this still this wasn’t enough for people. She persisted nonetheless, coming out the other side of an extremely dark tunnel after everyone had written her off as too crazy to ever regain control of her career. Incidentally, Madonna once sung to her in “Me Against the Music,” “Hey Britney, you say you wanna lose control… I’d rather see you bare your soul.” And bare it she did.
Today, let’s take Chris Crocker’s famous advice to “Leave Britney alone” and take a moment to honor the Britney renaissance.